Information Is a Commodity

The Purpose Of An Internal Communication Program Is To Move Information Up And Down The Organization.

Employees do more than provide labor. At all levels they are decision-makers, and the more information employees have, the better their decisions. This is true for the sales staff, the people running heavy equipment and the CEO.

An inherent problem in all business systems is managers hoarding information. Some managers use secrecy to make employees dependent on them. Others do not think to pass information along unless they have a good reason to do so.

Interestingly, most employees want more information for themselves, but do not see a need to provide more information to the people below them on the organization chart.

In Focus

I was conducting a focus group with the senior leadership team of a trucking company once. A parent company had sent me in to perform a communication audit, but the leaders in the smaller company did not want me to see their problems. They attempted to sabotage my efforts by assigning three layers of management to one focus group.

Ideally, focus group participants should all be at the same level, because people feel inhibited if their boss or someone at their bosses level is listening. I realized I had been set up because everyone was looking at one of the guys at the table before they spoke. I decided to use the unfortunate grouping to my advantage.

After I questioned everyone about his rank, I asked the senior vice president, Bill, if he got all the information he needed from the president. “No,” he said. “I get about 20 percent of what I need.”

“And how much of what you get do you pass down to your subordinates?” I asked.

“About 10 percent,” he said. He explained that because of his important responsibilities he needed access to more information than the people under him. The other people at the table were a little taken aback.

I turned to one of his direct reports. “Do you get all the information you need from Bill?” I asked.

“No,” he said defiantly.

“How much of what you need do you get?”

“About 10 or 20 percent,” he said. Then he explained why his job was important and why he needed more information.

“How much of what you get do you pass down to your subordinates?” I asked.

He thought for a few seconds, and apparently without seeing the irony, said about 10 to 20 percent. I moved down the line; no one thought he was getting all the information he needed.

How Much Information Should You Share?

As much as possible. The key question to ask yourself is not should I pass on information, but is there any reason why I shouldn’t pass it on.

Obviously there are things like personnel issues and Securities and Exchange Commission controlled information that must be protected, but those are exceptions. Managers reporting at meetings or making work assignments should provide their subordinates with everything they know about the subject and then ask for questions.

Also, the information that comes from subordinates is as valuable to managers as the information they pass down to them. As hard as it is to cause information to move down an organization, it is harder to get it to move up.

Another advantage of passing on as much information as possible is that the more information you give to others, the more you get back. Providing information to someone creates a psychological debt.

The receiver of the information can only pay back the debt by giving information back to the original sender. So, the manager who passes on the most information also gets the most feedback.

It may be advantageous to hoard money to build wealth, but in business hoarding information only makes us poorer.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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